The Thrill Is On

Robert Benchley, the famous wit and charter member of the Algonquin Round Table, attended a Broadway premiere in 1926. The play was The Squall and took place in the South Seas. But the dialogue, especially the island dialect, was abysmal. At one point during the first act a native girl ran onstage and threw herself at the feet of a man, and cried, “Me Nubi. Nubi good girl. Me stay.”
Benchley could take no more. He stood up and said aloud, “Me Bobby. Bobby bad boy. Me go.” And he left the theater.
Which brings me to the thriller. What is the secret? It’s writing something that gets the exact opposite reaction as Mr. Benchley’s. It is a full-on, grab-you-by-the-shirt experience that doesn’t let up until the end.
Not an easy thing to do. Not always an easy thing to find.
But what if you could find 8 of them? In one place? For less than a buck?
It’s my great pleasure to announce this astounding deal for thriller fans. Thrill Ride: 8 Pulse-Pounding Novels is a “boxed set” of reading pleasure from tested veterans of the thrill.
And yes, for only 99¢ you get the following full-length thrillers:
Blind Justice  by James Scott Bell
Sidetracked by Brandilyn Collins
Double Vision by Randy Ingermanson
The Blade by Lynn Sholes and Joe Moore
The Roswell Conspiracy by Boyd Morrison
The Killing Rain by P.J. Parrish
Desecration by J. F. Penn
The Call by Kat Covelle
New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry wrote the introduction. It begins, “There’s a maxim in this business: a thriller must thrill. The story must make the pulse quicken, the eyes widen, the fingers continually turning pages. At the end of each chapter the only thought the reader should have is ‘I need to read just a little more.’ “
That’s the kind of book you’re going to find in this collection.
Some of you may already own one or two of these titles. Well, it’s still a great deal, wouldn’t you say? And that’s the point: all of the authors here are into giving you, the reader, a great set at an amazing price.
It’s a venture in cooperative marketing. That’s what’s so amazing about the ebook boom. We can do things like this, and it’s the consumer who reaps the benefits. I’m on record as saying it’s the best time on earth to be a writer. Well, let’s add to that: it’s the best time on earth to be a reader, too.
About the authors:
Joe, P.J. and I camp out right here on TKZ. Lynn, of course, is Joe’s partner in thrills.
Boyd and Kat (pen name of Kathleen Pickering) are TKZ alums.

J. F. Penn is one of indie publishing’s mega-stars.
Brandilyn and Randy are good friends of mine, award-winning writers who have proven their thriller bona fides over and over.
And now here we all are, together, for you––the fans of thrilling fiction.
I hope you’ll pop over and buy a copy today. And let us hear from you, especially if we’ve kept you from sleeping…
Here are the links:

From all of the Thrill Ride authors, thank you for your wonderful support!

The CTFD Writing Method

By Boyd Morrison

Dear Me Five Years Ago,

I just read about a revolutionary new parenting method created by David Vienna called CTFD, or Calm The F*ck Down. Vienna proposes that kids are resilient and will grow up to be fine if parents would stop worrying about every little thing so much. CTFD isn’t for the children. It’s the parents who need to calm the f*ck down. I think his method has great lessons for you, so listen up.

As an unpublished author, you are concerned about everything (yes, I still remember like it was yesterday). You have so many concerns, I wonder now how you get any writing done. They go on and on: How will you get published? What if you’re writing isn’t good enough? Why doesn’t an agent want to represent you? Will you ever be able to do this for a living? Good God, you’re a mess.

I’m writing from the future to tell you…calm the f*ck down.

Even after you get Irene Goodman as an agent, you’re going to wonder why no publisher wants you (BTW, she advocated pretty much this same method, but you won’t really take it to heart at the time). When you get published by a big six publisher, you’re going to fret over the marketing for your first book even though most of it is out of your control. While you’re doing all that, you’re going stagger under the pressure of writing a great follow-up, convinced that you’ve run out of ideas.

Calm the f*ck down.

You’re going to give me an ulcer if you keep worrying about every little thing. You need to pace yourself. You’re so consumed with how that one book is going to be received that you’re not realizing you have a whole career ahead of you. I (we? you?) have six books published now, and I can assure you that there will be plenty of ups and downs in the coming years.

You’ve written three books without getting published? CTFD. Steve Berry wrote eight in twelve years before he got published. If you’re serious about making writing you’re job, don’t get hung up on those books. If they don’t sell, keep writing. You never know what’s going to be your breakout. When you were working at Microsoft, did you tell your boss: “My project is done—well-funded retirement, please!”? No, you went on to the next project.

You plan to be writing for the next forty years. That’s at least forty books ahead of you. Hell, Dean Koontz has written a hundred novels, and it took him forty before he wrote one you’ve heard of. You’re complaining that you’re career hasn’t taken off after three?

Buddy, calm the f*ck down.

I’m telling you, there’s no secret sauce. There’s hard work and luck. Sure, you’d love to have that one stratospheric hit that reaps millions of dollars and readers around the world. But here’s the thing: you have no idea which book that will be. It may be the next book or it may be ten books down the road.

Stop focusing on the book you just finished. It’s done. Yes, do your best to get the word out about  it, but then move on and write another one. As James Scott Bell said in his blog yesterday, if you’re passionate about the story, odds are some other people will be, too. Maybe even a lot of people.

And if the next book doesn’t resonate with people, calm the f*ck down. You’ve got forty more chances to make it happen.

Five Years Later You

But I Want Success Now!

When I was a writer aspiring to be published, I went to a book signing here in Seattle where number one bestselling author Lee Child was making an appearance. As I stepped up to get his autograph, I mentioned that I had finished three books and was struggling to find a publisher. He told me, “Remember, it only takes ten years to become an overnight success.”

At the time I thought he was just being kind to a newbie, giving me encouragement that I would someday reach my goal. It wasn’t until a few years later when I was a published author and knew Lee a little better that I ran into him at Bouchercon and reminded him of what he’d said. I told him that I understood he hadn’t been pandering to me, and Lee nodded in agreement. Although he won awards early in his career, it took him eight books before he made an appearance on the NY Times list, and several more years before he became LEE CHILD, brand name author.

I think the Internet has only accelerated our skewed expectation that you should become a huge success as soon as you type “The End” on your first manuscript. Writers focus on promoting their first novel to a fault. I see that mistake frequently when I go to writers’ conferences and spot an author pitching agents the same book they’ve brought three years in a row. I see it with authors flogging their one and only book on social media over and over in the hope that it will take off.

Our excessive exposure to the one-in-a-million shots only exacerbates the problem. We see someone like E.L. James, Kathryn Stockett, or Stephenie Meyer reach a massive audience with their first novels and think that will happen for us. It does happen, about once a year out of the over 200,000 books published, but we don’t often read about the back stories behind other authors who toiled in relative obscurity for years before hitting the big time.

Everyone knows mega-selling author Dean Koontz. He’s been producing work for so long that it’s hard to remember a time when he wasn’t on the bestseller lists, but many don’t realize the dues he paid to get there. Before he published Whispers, his big breakout hit, he wrote thirty-eight novels in twelve years. During that time he was making a living, but he wasn’t a household name like he is now.

The ranks of the current bestseller lists are filled with similar stories. It took twelve years and eight novels for Steve Berry just to find a publisher. Dan Brown published his first three books to little fanfare, and then The DaVinci Code turned them into bestsellers.

Tess Gerritsen wrote nine novels over nine years before she released her first NY Times bestseller, Harvest. Lisa Gardner wrote twelve books over seven years before reaching the next level with The Perfect Husband. Janet Evanovich wrote at least twelve novels before hitting it big with Stephanie Plum in One for the Money. In the self-publishing realm, romance author Bella Andre wrote two series over seven years without much notice and then began self-publishing, after which she became a regular on the bestseller list.

These stories of determination and persistence are the rule, not the exception. While it’s possible to land on that one killer premise from the get-go, building an audience, working on the craft, and developing your voice seems to be the steadier path to ultimate writing success.

I often think of a story from Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland. They write about a ceramics teacher who, on the first day of class, divided the students into two sections: one half would be graded on the perfection of a single pot, while the other half would be graded on the weight of their output—an A for fifty pounds, B for forty pounds, and so on. At the end of the semester, the results for the quality vs. quantity test were remarkable. The students being graded on poundage had thrown pots that were of significantly superior quality than the ones by the students who had studied and ached about how to create that one perfect pot. Practice ultimately made the “quantity” students produce better quality as well.

I believe being an author is the same. Thinking about writing doesn’t make you better, writing does. And if you have a large body of work, it’s much more likely a publisher or readers will discover your writing.

So don’t perseverate on perfecting that one novel. If you want to make writing a career, your publisher and readers are going to want many more books. Sit down at your computer and throw those pots. When you’re a success and looking in the rear-view mirror ten years from now, you’ll wonder how it went by so quickly.

How Far Do You Go?

Brother Gilstrap mentioned yesterday that it was his job as an author of thrillers to give his readers a wild ride. ‘Tis true, of course, but it got me to thinking about what happens when we climb aboard a horse which we expect to be a stallion but which seems, at least out of the gate, to be a foal. It has happened to me, and I daresay at some point it happens to everyone who reads a fair number of books: the first couple of pages grab you, but twenty or so pages into the story you find that the grip is becoming looser by the paragraph.

My question to you is, how deeply do you go into a book before you check out? What is your line of demarcation? Do you give the author a chance to change your mind? Do you immediately hang it up? Or do you hang in until the bitter end? For me, if I’m not immediately enjoying a book by a familiar or favorite author, I go one-third of the way into it before I even think about calling it quits. If I’m reading a book by an author unfamiliar to me, it’s a bit more complicated. If the narrative (or my mind) seems to be wandering before I’m one hundred pages in, I may consign it to my “later” pile in favor of something more immediately appealing. The same is true if I have no idea what has been happening during the thirty pages or so I just read, or can’t recall, in the words of the famous limerick, who has been doing what and to who. At that point I tend to put the book down wet.

But what about you? How far do you go? A few pages? A few chapters? One-third? One-half? Or do you engage in the literary equivalent of speed dating: the story has to impress you in five minutes, or you’re done?


What I’m reading: The Emperor’s Tomb by Steve Berry. Worth reading for the mention of abiotic oil alone. And for so much more. Berry is a master of rendering the complicated and complex interesting and exciting. And yes, it’s a wild ride.

The King Is Back

Our guest today is New York Times bestselling author, Steve Berry. Steve’s books have been sold in 49 countries and 39 languages with over 8 million copies in print. His novels include The Amber Room, The Romanov Prophecy, The Third Secret, The Templar Legacy, The Alexandria Link, The Venetian Betrayal, and his latest, The Charlemagne Pursuit. His next thriller, The Paris Vendetta, will be available December 2009. In addition to writing novels, Steve serves on the International Thriller Writers board of directors as co-president.

By Steve Berry

berry-steve2Over the past six years I’ve been asked countless times by the press, fans, and friends about The Da Vinci Code.  It’s a natural question since my stories are constantly compared to it.  Dan Brown even provided a wonderful blurb for my first novel, The Amber Room, (calling it “sexy, illuminating, and confident . . . my kind of thriller”).  I still like reading that comment from time to time.

Dan achieved what every writer dreams about.  He wrote a story that utterly captured the imagination.  One of those tales that rang with a sense of originality.  Remember all the press.  The hype.  The talk.  The buzz.  It was amazing.  People flocked into stores and bought The Da Vinci Code by the millions.  The result?  A guy who barely existed after his first three novels, was catapulted into a worldwide household name.  Eventually, non-fiction books, more fiction, television shows, games, memorabilia, a movie, you name it, and that book spawned it.

dan-brownBut that will not be Dan’s legacy.


What he did is bigger than all that. 

Dan will be remembered for bringing a genre back to life. 

Here’s reality:  When the Cold War ended in 1990, the traditional, tried-and-true-good-old-fashioned-spy-thriller died.  By 1995 the genre was virtually gone.  By 2002 editors simply weren’t buying, and people weren’t reading, spy thrillers.  Sure, if you were Cussler, Follett, Ludlum, and Forsyth you were okay.  Those long standing audiences were fully developed and totally assured.  But if you were anyone else, especially a rookie trying to break in, times were tough.  During the 1990s my agent submitted 5 separate thrillers to New York houses.  They were rejected a total of 85 times.

Then, in March 2003, the world changed. 

That was when The Da Vinci Code was released. 

tdcFor the next 36 months The Da Vinci Code was either #1, 2, or 3 on The New York Times  bestseller list, mostly in the #1 slot.   On every other American bestseller list the story was the same, as was the case from around the world.  Few books can claim such a feat.  A genre that what was once called ‘spy thriller,’ re-emerged as the international suspense thriller, a blend of history, secrets, conspiracy, action, and adventure. 

Just exactly what I, and many others, happen to be writing.

Many of us received our chance to find an audience thanks to what Dan Brown and Doubleday did in releasing The Da Vinci Code.  Thrillers were hot once again.  Hundreds of new books appeared.  The resurrection led, in no small measure, in 2004, to the creation of International Thriller Writers, an organization now of over 1000 working thriller writers. 
Happy days were here again.

Every few years a book comes along that literally changes things.  Stephen King’s Carrie.  David Morrell’s First Blood.  Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent.  John Grisham’s The Firm.  Those books fundamentally altered their genres.  They also opened up opportunities that, before them, did not exist for others.

The Da Vinci Code is such a book too.

I tell the story that every time I pass a copy I stop and bow.  Perhaps that’s an over-dramatization but, in my mind, I always utter a silent thanks.  Maybe I would have made it to print one day.  Maybe not.  All I know is that I did make it in 2003 thanks to Dan Brown, Doubleday, and The DaVinci Code.

In September, The Lost Symbol will be released.  This time Dan and Doubleday will not just resurrect a genre, they could well revive an industry.  Book sales have been decreasing over the past two years.  Print runs are down.  Re-orders are slow.  Backstock is disappearing.  Already, bookstores and booksellers are salivating at the prospects this fall offers.  People will, without question, return to the stores.  Books will be sold, and not just Dan’s.  The ripple affect will be huge.  Everyone’s bottom line will be positively affected.  This is precisely what the publishing industry needs.  The Lost Symbol will certainly debut at #1 and remain there for many months, if not years.  Already it is the single largest first printing in Random House history (5,000,000), but my guess is that number will increase before the fall. 

Welcome back, Dan.

For the past six years, many a prince has fought over your throne.  Several have laid claim, but none emerged to take your place.

Now they all must move aside.

The king is back.

May his reign be long and prosperous.

So what do you think? What effect will Dan Brown’s new thriller have on the publishing industry? Will it surpass The Da Vinci Code?


Coming Sunday, June 21, Paul Kemprecos tells us what it’s like to collaborate with Clive Cussler. And future Sunday guest bloggers include Robert Liparulo, Linda Fairstein, Julie Kramer, Grant Blackwood, and more.

Developing a theme through characters

Before there was story structure–before there were even novels—there was theme. A story’s theme is the fundamental and universal idea behind its plot. In King Lear, for example, one of its themes is authority versus chaos.

But to me, a novel’s theme is not merely the abstract principle behind the plot; I believe that you have to bring a story’s theme to life through its characters. Ideally, several of the major characters should portray a variation on the underlying ideas that inform the story. Those characters will reflect the light and depths of your theme, the way the facets of a diamond show off its hidden fire.

In A Killer Workout, the second installment in the Fat City Mysteries, I created a “Mean Girls” theme. I wrote several different characters to illustrate that underlying idea. One character had been victimized by bullies in her youth–another was herself a bully. Still another character had grown up to become a protector of abused young women. Through each of these women’s stories and backgrounds, I explored the ideas of bullying, emotional abuse, and “mean girls” in various ways.

I use my characters to do a “360” exploration of the theme of each of my novels. The secondary characters’ experiences in terms of the theme are usually more intense and extreme than my protagonist’s. They act as “theme foils,” and they also propel her journey through the plot.

What about you? How do you develop the theme for your stories? Do you create your theme at the beginning of your writing, or does it emerge slowly as you write? And how do you illustrate your theme?
Coming up on our Kill Zone Guest Sundays, watch for blogs from Tim Maleeny, Oline Cogdill, James Scott Bell, Steve Berry, and more.